The price of seduction

Pleasure and probity battle in ‘Don Giovanni’

by Katrina Wilber

On one hand, Don Giovanni is a manipulative man bent on conquering as many women as possible. On the other hand, he’s a misunderstood character who embodies all the extremes of human nature.

The University Opera Theatre presents Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s tale of love and consequences this weekend, taking a fresh look at Don Giovanni’s wandering ways.

The seemingly moralistic plot follows the licentious Don Giovanni through his conquests, attempted and accomplished. Later, facing death, he refuses to repent and is dragged off to hell in what director David Walsh calls “the greatest end in all of opera.”

Walsh, a member of the University faculty since 2002, said he doesn’t see Don Giovanni as a conventional woman-chaser.

“He’s a very misunderstood character,” Walsh said. “He tries to arouse in every woman what she possesses but hasn’t yet found.”

Critics of the opera say Don Giovanni exists only as a response to the other characters, but Walsh disagrees.

“He’s something that ignites forces in everyone else,” Walsh said. “He can be cruel, tender and sensitive in a matter of minutes.”

While the character of Don Giovanni goes against all social, moral and religious conventions, Don Ottavio personifies them. Mark Calkins, one of two University students portraying Don Ottavio, said the character is more intelligent and less passionate than Don Giovanni.

“Don Ottavio is like the guy in high school who had a crush on a girl but was too shy to tell her,” Calkins said.

Don Giovanni and Don Ottavio, the fire and ice of the opera, show two of the many different facets of love.

“For me, ‘Don Giovanni’ is, at the core, about erotic love,” Walsh said. “Not the clutching, grabbing love but arousal.”

Don Giovanni’s passion is evident in everything he does, but it is Don Ottavio’s socially acceptable control of his emotions that allow this exceedingly proper man to keep his fiance and his life. “He won’t do the sort of things that Don Giovanni will,” Calkins said.

Don Giovanni’s outlook on love, the idea he can have any woman, leads to his demise. His immoral actions send him to hell in an obligatory end-to-evil conclusion, but Walsh aid he doesn’t think of it that way.

“It’s an ambiguous ending. He goes to hell, but he goes in a blaze of glory,” Walsh said. “To me, that shows that even Mozart didn’t want to admonish Giovanni.”

The continuing dispute about the morality of the protagonist in Mozart’s 300-year-old opera shows the differing opinions of Don Giovanni. He forces audience members to come to terms with erotic love. The opera’s skillful way of crossing boundaries has kept opera companies busy for years.